Croisilles Hill – Top of the Topo’s 28 September, 2019
Frank looked at routes for this summit and decided an approach from the east made sense. We needed a decent amount of daylight as it was a long way along the ridge from Ronga Saddle. We drove to Okiwi Bay on the Friday arriving there sometime after 6 pm. We’d stopped at Cheviot and unfortunately Blenheim where the café was no good with only sweet muck on offer and noisy young folks playing cards – banging on the table and bursting out with laughter. I was shattered from listening to the iPod for too long so had to leave while Frank nursed his food and coffee.
When we got back to the car there was a bloody parking ticket with a $200 fine. The original plan had been to stop at a wee café at Seddon but it was closed. As we drove off I noticed a perfect café opposite in the sunlight but the car was heading to Blenheim so I let it be, much to my regret.
Mine hosts had popped out when we arrived at the motorcamp so no replies to the intercom and phone calls but they arrived shortly after we did. The lady was extremely nice. We had the whole place to ourselves and the tuis that first night. Luxury. I cooked a successful recipe from a suburban newspaper – a lentil stew with tomato puree and veggies. I hadn’t brought the makings for a second night’s meal and we would be back too late to go out for dinner at Rai Valley so I bought a cooked rice pouch, a tin of mushrooms and a packet of ham for that meal in the morning.
It was a bit inconvenient with the cabin being a wee walk from the kitchen and the cabin having no water so I had to be organized to some degree. We got up after 7am the next morning with the tuis flying around in the kowhai trees. The evening before we’d noted a 4WD track leading down to Croisilles Stream opposite a good spur to the summit and decided that would be a faster route to the summit. Unfortunately in the morning I spied a sign there informing us the track was private so we went with the original plan to Ronga Saddle.
We parked north of the saddle at 10.30am and then looked for a route up onto the spur that leads to the main ridge line. There were perpendicular cliffs above the road for quite a distance but a wee side stream led us via a small spur to the main spur. It wasn’t too rough but wouldn’t be easy travel in the inevitable darkness on our return journey. Reaching the main spur, Frank immediately spied an isolated strip of pink cruise tape affixed to a tree. I encouraged him to put in a way point here on his GPS.
We carried on along the ridge which had a lot of signs of pig rooting. Then we left the spur at 540 m a.s.l. to take a shortcut under the North Castor Peak. It was around 12.30pm so I suggested we stop for lunch at a sunny spot. We took the opportunity to drink from the small streams we’d crossed here. Frank led us up a steeper section to regain the ridge at 700 m a.s.l. Just down valley of this there was a bluff indicated on the map. It was now 2 pm and I estimated we would be at the summit by 4 pm so it would take us at least 3 hours for the return journey which meant we’d be getting back in the dark. Frank had to be careful to select the right spur off each high point as there were 2 options each time.
At the final saddle before the last climb of 225 m up to the summit there was extensive wind throw which we avoided by going on the western side of it. At 4 pm we started our last climb up to the summit. It was pretty good going apart from one patch of pig fern where a tree had fallen down blocking our route. I was keen to get to the high point but the summit ridge seemed to go on for some time. We finally got there at 4.25 pm. I would have buggered off immediately but Frank got me to pose with my foot on the pipe that marked the top. I gained a horrible suspicion just before the summit that I’d left my head torch in the cabin and confirmed this by checking my top pocket of the pack and informed Frank.
He was sanguine about it and said he would give me his hand torch. It was more important with his navigating task to have the head torch. I suggested we return via our time-saving plan B option of a well-defined spur, a traverse of the valley floor of Castor Stream and then a sidle around to the 4WD Track. As it would be dark by the time we got there, we could get away with being there without permission. Frank agreed to this.
We started down and I recognized the fallen tree by the pig fern. Frank was a bit off-route by about 5 metres so went back to the original line then seemed to travel more east to be in a more direct line to traverse the flatter slopes to gain the start of the defined spur down to the valley of Castor Stream. We got to the start of the defined spur and our descent. There was a noticeable animal trail which Frank had varying degrees of success in following. We had to make sure we were choosing a trail that stayed on our spur.
At one point Frank headed into some thick and nasty vegetation. I pointed out the pig trail was traversing the slope into more open taller vegetation. He got a bit irritated and suggested I lead the way down but I said he would need to do this as he had the GPS whereas it would be easy for me to deviate from the spur if I followed my seat of the pants. We persisted traversing via the pig trail and found ourselves once again on the main defined spur. I wasn’t pleased to see there was a bit of dying gorse appearing midst the taller kanuka. Would this mean we would eventually reach an impenetrable forest of gorse?
But that didn’t eventuate and as dusk approached we reached the punga zone and the valley floor. The nature of the scrub zone marked on the map was still an unknown and disturbingly there was a bit of tall gorse but it was fairly open to move through. Frank led us through some more dark forest seemingly reluctant to pass me his torch but then he stopped and we put on the torches.
We came to a wall of kiekie and I assumed it was a narrow band. I entered what looked like a narrow aisle in it only to find it had got thicker so I let Frank know and we exited. I warned him we needed to avoid traveling in that sort of vegetation. However there seemed to be no way of avoiding it as it was now a wall, parallel with our down valley direction of travel. Frank decided to tackle the tangle in the hope of traversing it to the other side of the valley. Big mistake but the alternative of traveling down the true left of the valley would mean that we would then have to cross the stream outlet and it was tidal with our not knowing what the tides were doing and Frank can’t swim. We kept on with our painstakingly slow and painful traverse of kiekie. It went on and on and was never-ending. We noticed channels of water sometimes and assumed that was Castor Stream we’d crossed so were making progress but alas, the kiekie went on and was booby-trapped with supplejack as well. Frank would occasionally crash from the kiekie onto the ground and have to climb back up into the tangle and so did I. The supplejack would trap our feet and we would struggle to lift our legs high enough to stand on higher sections of kiekie stems. They would sometimes snap with our weight and we’d fall lower again. I was pretty unhappy and moaned to myself as that was the only option. Frank stoically persisted in his steady progress without comment. What comment could we make except something negative and we had to nurture what morale was remaining. At one stage Frank asked me for my ideas of what to do but I had nothing to offer at that stage.
Eventually we came to the real Castor Stream. It was wide and very shallow and lined with fine stones. Very attractive. I suggested we travel down it for quick easy progress. There were deeper pools and then dams of kiekie across the channel. Frank expressed doubt when the sides narrowed with overgrowing kiekie but I suggested I push through to see if it was passable and reassured him it was. At one point there was a deep pool and I had to wade over to the bank and climb up on it. This wasn’t easy. We then struggled over a small dam of kiekie and dropped back into the stream.
Frank eventually pointed out that the stream was moving away from the true right of the valley and we had no wish to repeat the misery we had endured in gaining the stream from the western side so we left the stream to reach higher ground above the kiekie zone. I noticed he was not maintaining the necessary direction of travel and we had differing opinions of which way to go. He seemed to want to move up valley and I wanted to move down valley. Then he mentioned that the GPS compass wasn’t accurate as we were traveling too slowly for it to work properly. I suggested we get his compass out and I would orientate the map to suss out our direction of travel. This seemed to be a novel idea to him but he got the message when I indicated that east was that way (where I’d wanted to go in the first place). I hadn’t been carrying my compass as I’d thought the GPS was reliable.
We went where the map indicated, slowly gaining height to ensure we were well away from the kiekie. Then we neared a gully we would need to traverse in order to climb up a gentle spur to the 4WD track. The gully was thick with vegetation so we climbed a bit higher around the edge of it. Here gorse reappeared and Frank toyed with the idea of our just climbing directly up the hill to the road but the vegetation was too thick for my liking and I was fearful that we would end up in a thicket of persistent gorse so we continued sidling around the slope and crossed the gully. We traveled very slowly and carefully with Frank stopping frequently to check his tracked route on the GPS. I dropped my walking stick once while I was fluffing around with gloves and snacks and immediately realized and retrieved it but then a minute later announced it was no longer with me but found it 2 metres away. The wrist strap had come undone.
We struggled to fasten it up and eventually I suggested using my knife to push the tip of the strap through the buckle. We carried on, managing to cross the densely vegetated gully and then stopped at a narrow stream in the gully for a drink and Frank filled his bottle up a bit. We began to climb the gentle spur and eventually stumbled across an outdoor toilet. This was a good sign that we were nearly at the 4WD track. Then we saw a tyre and finally an abandoned caravan. Voila, the track. It was very wide and smooth with clay. We ascended it quietly in case we would be overheard, sneaking past parked cars. Finally at midnight we reached the main road and walked for 40 minutes to our parked car. It was now 12.42am and we’d left the car 14 hours before. 8 hours on the go from the summit – so much for the shortcut.
We drove back to the cabin and I went and microwaved the dinner. There were others there including a couple tenting right opposite our cabin and an enormous motor van. We had 6 hours’ sleep and then got up with Frank’s alarm at 8 am. We were impressed how early our neighbours had risen and made progress with their leaving preparations. I had a refreshing shower. The day was overcast with lowering cloud but it didn’t rain. I gave back the cabin keys to our friendly pleasant hostess and told her about our trip. She said a colony of bats had been discovered on the eastern slope of Castor Stream in a very rough patch of ground and showed me a letter written by Kennedy Warne, the editor of NZ Geographic about an ascent of his of Editors Hill nearby. He said it was rough but he was on a track!
We drove back and stopped in Blenheim for a cooked breakfast for our lunch. This kept us going which is just as well as there was no place close to Chch to stop at later on. Around 6 pm I remembered it was daylight saving so was grateful that our Okiwi hostess hadn’t been huffy about the late drop-off of keys. We arrived home and I did something with a can of beans for tea. I google-earthed later on to see if I could see the extent of the kiekie zone and it looked to be right across the valley. Annoyingly the remains of a 4WD track led down the true left of the valley to a house and then no doubt cut east on to the 4WD track that we’d used to get up to the road. But the tides would have been an unknown feature to navigate at the river mouth for a non-swimmer.